NAME: Benjamin Hardy
CLAIM TO FAME: Benjamin is the #1 writer on Medium and has been for over two years, where his articles have accumulated 50 million combined pageviews. In that time he has built an email list of over 300,000 subscribers, and he recently wrote Willpower Doesn’t Work about how to proactively shape our environment and evolve into the person we want to become. And he’s done all of this while getting his Ph.D. from Clemson.
WHERE TO FIND HIM: On Medium, Twitter, Amazon, and his website.
Let’s start with the basics: What time of day do you start writing?
Usually between 7:30-8:00 AM.
Do you have any pre-writing rituals or habits?
I wake up between 5:00-6:00am, get in my car, write in my journal about my goals and life. My car is a scared space where I know it will be peaceful. Eventually, the journal writing makes its way to the topics I want to write about that day. Then, after about 20-30 minutes in my journal, I go to the gym and work out. By the time I get home, I am in the mental state to create.
Do you write every day? Or do you write in spurts or only when there is a specific project? Do you have a sense of how much of what you produce ever sees the light of day?
I am very tough on myself and the kind of person I am, but I am not hard on my writing. Rather, I believe that my writing is a reflection of me and my state. If I’m in a peak state, my writing will be good. If I’m not in that state, I don’t write. Because of this, almost everything I write sees the light of day. My wife hates that I don’t spend more time agonizing about the way I say things but I like my writing to be personal. I don’t write everyday. Probably 1-2 times per week.
What was the best money you ever spent as an author?
I paid $197 on Jon Morrow’s online courses that taught me how to write viral headlines. I got only ten minutes into that course before I was so anxious to apply the principles that I got started with my first blog articles. I never finished the course but the investment coupled with the topic launched me into my writing career.
Second, I hired Ryan Holiday to help me write my book proposal for WILLPOWER DOESN’T WORK. Writing a book proposal was a completely foreign task for me and his guidance was invaluable.
Everyone says that the first step to being a good writer is to read good writer’s’ writing. What do you read? How much do you read? Do you have a favorite author, perhaps someone you try to emulate?
Most of my reading is in the form of audio books with my journal close by. That way I can quickly translate how the dots connect in my mind when I hear something. I will also listen to the same book 2-3 times in a row when I like what I read.
I read a blend of non-fiction. My foundation is religious material, as a Christian, my personal development has a much deeper purpose when based in my religious beliefs. In addition, I consume psychology, medical research, books on addiction, and general self-improvement.
I don’t really have anyone I’m trying to emulate right now, but Steven R. Covey is my ultimate mentor. I can always go back to his writing and be inspired. The principles he taught are timeless and continue to guide me.
In the past two years you’ve managed to go from 0 to 300,000 email subscribers, build a following of hundreds of thousands on Medium.com, and sign a book deal with a major publisher. Your book is Willpower Doesn’t Work. If it wasn’t willpower that helped you achieve that level of success, what was it? What would be your advice to someone in your position two years ago that wants to follow a similar path? What from your research have you found easiest to implement to start writing more NOW?
It’s not WILLPOWER at all. Willpower is the reason I didn’t start sooner.
How was I able to do it? I had no other choice. At least, that’s how I felt. I started writing online shortly after I became a foster parent of 3 kids. With the new responsibility of being a parent, I knew it was time for me to provide for them and set an example for those kids of working hard and going after your dreams.
That wasn’t enough though. Then I stated INVESTING in my writing skills. I spend $800 to get my domain benjaminhardy.com. That was a HUGE financial investment for my wife and I. We couldn’t believe we were going to spend so much money on a domain name.
When you start investing in yourself, you become committed. That’s the advice I wish I had taken 7-8 years ago. It would have gotten me moving much faster.
What is the biggest reason people’s writing doesn’t find an audience? What are common traps you see aspiring authors fall into?
Most authors never learn marketing. And they don’t have what I believe to be the 3 keys to good non-fiction writing:
1. You must be a good communicator
2. You must know your subject matter really, really well (head knowledge)
3. You must have deep emotional conviction about your subject matter (heart knowledge)
You combine these 3 things and that makes for good writing. Without the emotional side, the writing feels academic and not compelling. With only the emotion, it feels purely opinionated. But when you can write in an emotional and persuasive way, and then back up what you’re saying with credible sources, then it’s very believable and convincing.
Do you find your writing routine changes when writing your short-form work on platforms like Medium versus your longer form book? Which do you prefer?
I prefer writing short-form because it’s easier. Blogs are under less scrutiny and easier to organize. When I wrote Willpower Doesn’t Work, the toughest part was not writing it, it was organizing it. I went through several drafts where the ideas were in completely different orders.
However, I prefer writing books because you can go much deeper, and I like having chapters and sections all focused on a larger idea.
But yes, my routines and different for each. I see writing articles as a hobby, and writing books like a job. It’s a lot harder to write books.
You have a lot of other projects you do. You’re working on your PhD, you are the foster father of 3, and your book is coming out this Spring. What is your methodology for prioritizing? How do you make sure you have time to write with all the other important things (and distractions) that are vying for your attention?
When it comes to writing articles, if I don’t get it done before 9:00 AM, it won’t get done. Life takes over. I like to get up early and avoid the distractions of the morning (phone, news, email, etc.). If I can do that well, I know that I will be done by 2:00 PM and ready to be a full time dad. I like to pick my kids up from school and spend the afternoon with them during their free-play and homework. In the evenings, I like to spend time with my wife and get to bed early. Sometimes work requires more time of me but every day in my calendar 4:00-7:00 PM is blocked off for my family so they can count on me then. We have to put first things first. Relationships are first. First, my relationship with my family, my friends, my church, and then my readers.
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Weekends are precious – they're the only part of the week when most people can get away with not working, not studying and generally being idle without guilt. However, some ways of using your weekends may be more fullfilling than others… Here are some top student activities, to make sure you get the most out of your deserved two-days off.
Weekends are great for travelling a little further afield. Not only do you get two full days of fun, but travelling also helps to broaden your mind and enrich your life experiences. It’s safe to say that my favorite part of studying abroad was the opportunity to travel around the country by train or bus. And contrary to popular belief, travelling can be student-budget-friendly and eventful at the same time – providing you plan well ahead and know where you’re going!
Go in a group, stay in student hostels and remember to research the destination before you go. Don’t forget to pack a lock – you're going to need it if you want to keep your belongings safe.
Travelling on a student budget >
2. Explore your local area
Explore your local area too. One of my favorite student activities in London was just wandering around the old streets and alleyways near my school. If you’re into being active and getting out of your dorm room, simply going for a walk is an excellent way to learn more about your local area, find interesting places to visit and even discover little pockets of town that you’ve never came across before. Channel that inner flaneur!
A student's guide to London >
3. Catch up with studies
The most important student activities you have as a student is to do well academically. Student life can be relaxing and fun, but don’t we all have times when there’s one more essay to rush, or an important deadline to make?
During the week, dashing from lecture to lab to library, it can be difficult to think clearly. So the quieter moments of the weekend can be a good chance to really digest what you’ve learned, start preparing for the next part of the course, and do that extra reading you keep meaning to get round to!
Why you should join a study group >
4. Earn some money
Another great idea for student activities during the weekends is to secure a part-time job, either within the university or elsewhere. Some of my friends work for their university’s administrative department, and some who are good at IT opted to contribute to the school’s technical support network. Obviously make sure you don’t take on too much, but this can be a good way of earning some extra money, and also gaining useful experience.
Student jobs – which is the best?
5. Focus on your health
I can’t stress enough the importance of getting adequate sleep and exercise during your university years. Being a 'weekend warrior' may sound off-putting, but any exercise is better than no exercise – especially if you have a tight schedule during Mondays to Fridays.
Sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday can help repay your sleep debts, and make use of the weekend to spend some time cooking healthy, nutritious food. Maybe even make a large batch and stock up your fridge and freezer, so that you’re never out of fuel for the long study sessions ahead in the weekdays.
Best foods to eat when revising >
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